Saturday, December 06, 2008

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Chance for another ACC crown should be savored

Readin goes here and here and here 4 decks please.

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Virginia Tech Hokies have a right to wonder how much an ACC championship is actually worth these days. They've already won two in four years, yet fans clamor for more. What's a conference title without a bowl win? Is it really an achievement to wear the crown of this ridiculed league?

Those debates help pass the time from August through November. But once December comes, there should be only one thing on Tech's mind: You've got to win these things whenever you can.

The Hokies will play Boston College in their third ACC championship game in a four-year span today, and they're set up nicely for another run next season. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor is just a sophomore. Tailback Darren Evans -- who needs just two yards today to reach 1,000 -- is a redshirt freshman. Disruptive defensive end Jason Worilds, a redshirt sophomore, looks like the next great leader on his side of the ball.

Freshman receivers Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale are proving their worth already. Several potential stars, including running back Ryan Williams, are being redshirted.

But to assume the Hokies will just get back here next year -- or any time in the next five years -- is crazy. Tech needed a pile of pieces to snap into place just to make it to Tampa. Timely penalties. Season-saving drives. Help from the out-of-town scoreboard.

Coach Frank Beamer freely admits there was some luck involved in the journey. There's no guarantee that returns in 2009, even if talent does.

And talent won't be confined to Blacksburg. Look around the Coastal Division. Miami's getting better. North Carolina's getting better. Even Duke is on the upswing. Virginia, despite its struggles, gave the Hokies the creeps at Lane Stadium last week.

In fact, the most complete team in the ACC is sitting at home today. Georgia Tech just finished the regular season with four straight games against ranked opponents, winning three of them.

The 15th-ranked Yellow Jackets are not the most deserving team in the Coastal -- the Hokies beat them head-to-head and earned the right to be here -- but if they played on a neutral field today, they would be favored over the unranked Hokies. And they'll be trouble for everyone in the Coastal next season, too.

Which brings us back to the motto of today: Win these things when you can.

"When you're here, you've got to take advantage of the opportunity," Tech defensive end Orion Martin said. "Next year, you never know who will win it. We would like to be back, but nothing's promised."

And here's another tip for the title-game neophytes: Don't glance up at the stands today. Not once. It won't make sense.

The smallest crowd the Hokies have played in front of all year was 44,117 at Boston College. Even if the title-game attendance matches that size, which is no given, it will seem like much less because of the 65,000-plus capacity of Raymond James Stadium.

This is a disadvantage for Tech. Particularly on defense, the Hokies draw great energy from their sold-out home stadium and perhaps even more from hostile environments. They relished the chance to play in front of 85 grand at Nebraska. Crickets -- even friendly ones -- don't provide the same juice.

It's a shame the league's biggest game doesn't have an atmosphere to match, but that's the situation. And this likely will continue at least until 2010, when the game moves to the more centralized location of Charlotte.

Macho Harris will be long gone by then. And Tech's senior cornerback knows that no matter how many eyes are watching from the stands today, his will be fixed on one goal.

"I want a ring," Harris said. "I remember the feeling last year. I'm greedy. I want that. The crowd? I love the crowd, and I hope all of us as a Virginia Tech Hokie community come down there and support us. But as players, we're going down there to get one thing."

It's the right approach. Win these things whenever you can. Time has a way of reshaping perspective, and history is kind to conference kings.

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